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Mon museum and Payas

sunny 32 °C

I had a bit more energy in the morning and my appetite came back. We went looking for another place to eat but ended back up at the Grandfather Grandmother restaurant on the river again. I attempted to eat the fried toast and egg while Ryan went for more fried rice. The fried egg came with condensed milk and sugar, a bit like French toast, but far too sweet. I tried to order just an egg after that but I ended up with the exact same dish again. That was the downside to not speaking the same language.

We started the walking tour that we found in our Lonely Planet. We had to use Google Maps and modify it a bit based on where we were and what we wanted to see.

First stop was the Mon museum. It had quite a lot on general Burmese history and held a strong nationalist sentiment displayed by statements like 'Myanmar people come from Myanmar' in the displays of archaeological finds dating back thousands of years. Like in China, pottery was a major trade in Myanmar’s past.


It could have been due to our inability to read Burmese script, but there wasn’t much background on the Mon people so I went searching for some in preparation for this blog post. Just be advised that I wasn’t always able to find dates or origins that stayed consistent so there will ambiguity.


The Mon people are thought to have come from Western China thousands of years ago and are also thought to have introduced Theravada Buddhism and other Indian influences to the area. They settled in the Lower Irrawaddy delta and developed a strong kingdom that was eventually conquered by the Burmans in the 11th century. Myanmar wasn’t the only place the Mon settled, they also settled in Northern Thailand not far from Chiang Mai and near the Chao Phraya River in Nakhon Pathom. The island we’d visited in Bangkok was an area where Mon people currently live in Thailand. The Mon regained some independence after the Mongols took over from the Burmans in the 13th century, but the rivalry and clashes between the two groups continued.


In the 18th century, Burman King Alaungphaya drove the Mon out of their territory and they became stateless. As the British came in next century, the Mon sided with them to try to improve their situation with little results. After the nation achieved independence in 1948, the Mon asked for the recognition of their identity and own state. They faced more percussion, death, burnt villages and imprisonment. Mon people created organizations, first the Mon People’s Front, then the New Moon State Party to fight for their rights. In 1974 they were granted a partially autonomous state, but continued to resist the oppressive military government until a ceasefire in 1996.


From the archaeological section of the museum, time jumped to the current era where coins, tool and crafts of the Mon people were on display. There was a step by step diagram of pipe making, a common trade in this area, slate making to supply schools, weaving and pottery. There were also Buddhist statues, sculptures, Mon musical instruments like kyam, the crocodile xylophone and the saung harp. Music and dance were important to the Mon people.


On the upper floor, there were more Buddhist artifacts and furniture from King Thibaw and his family. That royal family was the last of the monarchy as the British took over the country and forced their family into exile in India during the 19th century. Myanmar currently has no monarchy, though their descendants survive.


On the way out, we passed the cannons and the old Ebenezer Baptist Church that looked pretty quiet. Mawlamyine had been an Anglo-Burmese settlement during colonization and it still showed in the landscape.


Next we arrived at St. Patrick’s Church built in 1829. It was bright yellow with red trim. The clock tower had been built in 1854 by the French. Groups of Burmese people sat around the church and only two wandered around inside while we were there. There were some statues of Jesus, but it was nowhere near as ornate as their Buddhist temples. It also had no pews just two large mats on the floor.


We journeyed on to Kyaik Than Lan Paya, a temple built in 875 AD that reputably housed one of Buddha’s hairs. There was a long quiet walkway to explore with a couple dogs lazing nearby. Hardly anyone was around and the pathway was well on its way to decaying. The path slowly climbed until we saw a higher entrance.


We made our donation to ride the elevator to the paya as there were no stairs that we could find. From the paya site at the top of the ridge, we could see most of downtown Mawlamyine along with the river. It was quite the view, even including the old colonial prison.


The Paya was a bit strange in the sense that they had someone sitting at the entrances of each shrine with a receipt book to take donations. We just observed from afar as it was likely an activity more suited to Buddhists. We walked around the tall golden pagoda, standing 46 metres. They even had benches to relax on as well. Unlike Shwedagon Pagoda busy with tourists and locals alike, this one only had a few other locals and one older foreign woman. One of the workers led me down a strange descending path to find the washrooms that felt like they were in a construction zone.


We walked down another corridor to Maha Muni Paya, passing a reclining Buddha on the way. The Paya and Buddha area were under renovations but we were still invited in to look around. A woman was painting the gold back on the mirror tiled pillars while she spoke of her travels through Europe with her husband who was a doctor. Her English was pretty good. She said that the paint she was replacing was a hundred years old. Many of Myanmar's landmarks were getting makeovers, probably to be in good shape for tourists, or maybe it was just the tourism dollars could finally fund it.


Venturing on, we descended toward Strand road to find lunch.


We went through a couple of markets and a residential area first, also passing the colonial prison. We found a South Indian restaurant where our options were chicken, pork, vegetable or other meats. At least that made it simple. They brought us curries, crispy bread and rice to enjoy it with. It was nice to eat something with a different flavour than we were used to and Ryan quite enjoyed this one. The vegetable curries had a tomato flavour and a bit of spice, though not too much. The meal was reasonably priced as well.


We hid from the heat after that. Ryan had been having trouble with his bank card earlier, which was bad news bears considering mine flat out didn't work in this country. We were getting a little worried. We were able to check if his account had been hacked, which it hadn't. When we went for supper, he tried the other ATMs with no luck. The lady at OK Guesthouse found an internet cafe for us, called to ensure they would be open and arranged a driver for us. We weren't even staying there, just planning on eating at the restaurant next door!

While the ride was a bit unnerving, three of us balanced on the driver's motorbike including me in a long skirt, we got there quickly enough. Ryan managed to make the call, surrounded by curious staff and our motorbike driver. It went through much quicker than mine had in Yangon. The only challenge was when the owner of the shop hung up our first call because Ryan had to type in his bank information. The whole process got a bit lost in language barriers. But in the end, we got the issue resolved. Since he'd been pulling out cash for the both of us, he'd reached the weekly withdrawal limit he hadn't reached before.

We walked back to OK guesthouse to eat as a thank you gesture. My omelette and fries were so-so, but the plates of watermelon we ordered thinking they were actually juice were downright delicious. My stomach didn't like the oily main dish however. Ryan hadn't been a fan of his fried noodles that reminded him too much of soap either. We walked back and settled in to get some sleep for the early morning tour we'd booked for the next day.


Posted by Sarah.M 07:31 Archived in Myanmar Tagged mon walking_tour mawlamyine mon_museum maha_muni_paya kyaikthanlan_paya st._patrick’s_church

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